Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Which Fisheye - Samyang or Olympus Body Cap Lens?

A fisheye lens gives a very wide view, so wide that the image appears distorted or stretched, especially at the edges. This view can give an interesting look, something different than the usual.

I'm an enthusiast for cameras and photography. I have a Micro Four Thirds (m43) mirrorless system camera. A few years ago I wanted to try using a fisheye for the first time. I got the Samyang 7.5mm fisheye because it had many positive reviews and it was a reasonable price. But today if I was in the same position, being new to fisheye lenses, I might consider the much smaller and even cheaper alternative from Olympus, their 9mm body cap fisheye lens.

Samyang 7.5mm Fisheye Lens or Olympus 9mm Fisheye Body Cap Lens?

Right now I have both these lenses so in this article I'm going to discuss the merits of both and my experience using them. I'm not a professional photographer, this article is just what I feel from my beginners standpoint. I hope it'll help you if you are thinking of buying your first fisheye lens for your m43 camera.

Samyang 7.5mm Fisheye Lens
The lens is well constructed, it feels very solid with a metal mount and the dials move with purpose. A flower lens hood is built-in, it has a large lens cap and a very nice protective soft carry pouch included.

GX7 with the Samyang 7.5mm Fisheye Lens - the supplied lens cap and carry pouch are in the background

As you can see from the above photo, it looks great attached to the Panasonic Lumix GX7. The size and handling is just right.

The Samyang lens is manual focus, the first I had used so it took some getting used to. There are no electrical connections to the camera so that means no meta data is recorded in the photo from the lens, no F stop, no focal length, etc. There is a physical distance scale on the focus ring, often you can set this to infinity and not think anymore, just shoot. With fisheye lenses in general you get most objects in focus anyway. This can give you a feeling of freedom just to concentrate on composition.

The other manual aspect of the lens is the aperture. There is a ring on the lens to set your F stop. The widest (fastest) aperture is F3.5, it means you can use this lens in relatively low light conditions, good for indoors for example.

A word of warming about this lens, the view is so wide that it's easy to get your feet in the frame! It's a 7.5mm focal length, that's 15mm in 35mm equivalent terms. The Samyang is wider than the body cap lens which is 9mm (18mm equivalent).

Overall I've had a fun time with this lens. For example, I took it to Prague, up the clock tower and took some nice wide shots of the people and rooftops below.

Prague - taken with the Samyang 7.5mm Fisheye Lens, 3:2 ratio

But I haven't taken the Samyang on all my trips. I preferred to save the space in my camera bag for more conventional lenses. That for me is the problem with a fisheye, it is specialised. On a trip you only need it occasionally. In Prague I had to keep switching back to my Panasonic 20mm. Carrying the Samyang just on the off chance I might use it became a chore and has meant it has spent a lot of time at home unused.

The moral of this story is, ask yourself what you envisage using a fisheye lens for. Will it be for travel or something more specific? If for travel, is a fisheye essential or just for fun?

For me fisheye is for fun first. Because of this when Olympus released their fisheye body cap lens it got me thinking...

Olympus 9mm Fisheye Body Cap Lens
A body cap is normally a plastic cover to protect the sensor when you don't have a lens fitted to your camera. Olympus decided to put a fisheye lens into a body cap. It's a great idea because it's really small in size but it's still a lens. Of course there is a trade-off, the image quality is not as good as the Samayang or any other 'real' lens. However, this body cap lens is really very good! Maybe 'good enough'. It is made from plastic, don't expect a premium feel but it looks like it will last a long while. The lens is protected by a cover that slides back when you set the focus distance.

GX7 with the Olympus 9mm Fisheye Body Cap Lens

It is very basic but there is some charm in that. For example, it has a fixed aperture of F8. There are focusing options, infinite, hyper and close. You can leave it on infinity or hyper most of the time and not worry, the F8 aperture means mostly everything is in focus always.

Because there's no need to decide on aperture and focusing, I've found I spend more time thinking about composition. It frees you to be more creative (possibly!). F8 means the body cap captures less light and so in low light conditions you'll have to increase the ISO or shutter speed. But is this such a pain? I've found that outside in the daylight F8 is fine.

Photo taken with the Olympus 9mm Fisheye Body Cap Lens

The focal length of the body cap is 9mm. That's not as wide as the Samyang, I find this makes the distortion a little less pronounced for the body cap. I took an identical photo with both lenses to demonstrate the field of view:

Olympus 9mm                                Samyang 7.5mm

To take the above photo the camera was on a small tripod, seated on a wall. I took a photo using the Olympus body cap lens (left hand photo). I replaced it with the Samyang lens and I was careful not to move the camera. I set the Samyang to F8 and ISO 200, the same as the body cap lens photo. The most striking thing about the above photos is not any difference in quality but the field of view. There's definitely a lot more in the frame and there's more distortion with the Samyang (right hand photo).

The best thing about the body cap is that I always have it with me. If I'm shooting with my 20mm or whatever lens, then I think a fisheye photo would look good then I have it in my bag.

I really like the Samyang, it is a great lens, it takes great fisheye photos for a reasonable price. Certainly for the fisheye beginner the Samyang is a better alternative than the much more expensive Panasonic and Olympus comparable lenses. But if you are thinking of buying a m43 fisheye for first time and you are wondering which to get, my advice is get the body cap. It's not expensive and therefore it is less risk. It's fun and will get you started. If you find you like fisheye a lot, go for the Samyang or one of the other fisheye lenses available. In my experience having the Samyang first, I haven't used it as much as I would like. The body cap just feels a bit more practical for fun. That's just my opinion, in any case I hope this article has helped you.

Both lenses have been around for a while, search on YouTube for either and there are many reviews to watch. The following are my pick of the reviews: 

Learn more about the body cap lens hers with this excellent review by Robin Wong:

The video review of the body cap lens by David Thorpe:

Here's a review by Micro 4/3rds Photography of the Samyang with comparisons to many other lenses including the body cap lens:

Here's a review of the Samyang by Mirrorless Reviews:

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